A Challenge and a Shakespeare Paper

Hi guys.

Let me tell you: I. Am. Exhausted. I spent all day trying to iron out last minute prom details and getting straps put on my dress and trying to find nail polish and makeup, while in the back of my mind stressing about my orchestra auditions and my SAT next week. My creative well is pretty much run dry, which is why I’m taking the lazy route with this post.

This post comes to you in two parts! Part one: a challenge!

To be specific, the free, total, fruitful, and faithful challenge. I didn’t get into this last week, but those four things are part of loving genuinely. True love should be free, total, fruitful, and faithful. Even if you’re not in a relationship or anything, you can still practice these in everyday life. Starting on Wednesday of next week, I’m going to take the challenge. I’d love for you to try it with me – I’m going to post the challenge in this post so you can do it, too!

[Taken directly from Theology of the Body for Teens by Jason & Crystalina Evert and Brian Butler. You should buy it.]

Day One

First, “FTFF” is more than a call to selflessness. It is the shunning of all things selfish in your life. The world programs us to be selfish. So, in order to “deprogram” that selfish influence in your life, you must first “unplug” from the world, disconnecting from any worldly influences that would put you at risk.

So, spend an entire day free of all technology. “What, are you crazy!?” you might wonder. [Hero’s note: This is an excellent place for an interrobang. Unfortunately, the authors went with the stylistic choice of the ‘!?’ combo.] No, not crazy – focused. Remember, before God can reprogram you, you might need to be deprogrammed.

Don’t turn on the television for an entire day. Don’t log onto the computer. That’s right, no email, no surfing, no IMing. Next, turn off your cell phone and don’t answer it. Not even text messaging. You can do it. Finally, no music – not even spiritual or uplifting tunes. See if you can do it for one full day. Challenge yourself. What you will probably find is that the silence drives you crazy… at first. But you will grow to love it the more you silence your world.

Day Two

After you’ve spent a day without media, try something even harder. Deny your desires for an entire day. Let your little brother or sister choose the channels on the TV. When your mom or dad ask you to do something, jump right up and do it, regardless of what you’re doing. (Be prepared: they might go into shock if you do this.) Ask your friends where they want to go that night. Let your parents control the music in the car. Don’t even ask what’s for dinner. Whatever is put in front of you, be thankful you have it and eat with gratitude.

Day Three

On the third day you are only going to do things that serve others. There won’t be any hanging out or zoning out in front of a screen. It’ll be cleaning , washing, folding, vacuuming, playing with younger siblings, and helping others. That’s it. There won’t be any activities just for you. You will live for everyone else in your household. If your household is small, get over to your church – there’s always a closet or room that needs cleaning out. Be careful when you offer: the parish staff might be so thankful that they’ll even pray for you!

Day Four

[Hero’s note: If you aren’t Catholic but would still like to do this challenge, for this step, still do the prayers, meditation, and journalling exercise, just not in front of the Blessed Sacrament.]

Head to your church and spend some time in adoration of our Lord. It’s okay if the Eucharist isn’t “exposed;” Jesus is still there: body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament. Sit in adoration for at least thirty minutes (an hour would be even better). Write the following verses on a piece of paper and take it with you, or highlight these verses in your Bible. Prayerfully read and meditate on them before Jesus and ask Him to reveal to you, deep within your heart, what they mean to your life right now.

  • “…it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:20
  • “….by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” ~Romans 12:1-2
Later on in the day, before you go to bed, journal about the three days prior. Ask yourself what you learned, what elements of your Four-Day Challenge were most difficult and which came easily. Reflect on how your activity somehow mirrored FTFF. And try to commit those two verses to memory.
If you follow these spiritual “exercises” for four days, you will be surprised at how tangibly different you look at the call to be “free, total, faithful, and fruitful,” and you will have taken a significant step in your spiritual maturity. You’ll be one step (or maybe four steps) closer to loving like Jesus.

Part two: Shakespeare!

Per Sami and Christina’s request, here is my paper on Julius Caesar. It is yet to be graded, but I’ll let you know what grade I get when it is. Also, those of you MODGers who are assigned this paper, I will warn you that plagiarism is highly frowned upon. *ahem*

Julius Caesar

Despite its misleading title, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar does not focus on Caesar as the main character, but rather on Brutus. In the play, Brutus makes a choice that changes the future of Rome: he joins with the conspirators and assassinates Caesar. Brutus believes that Caesar’s death is for the good of Rome, but is it? When Rome is changed forever, is it changed for the better? The justification of Brutus’s actions hinges on whether Brutus is right in his views of Caesar, on what Caesar’s actual intentions are, and on whether Caesar’s plans are actually going to harm Rome.

The first question that must be asked is why Brutus kills Caesar. At the beginning of the play, Brutus has no grievances with Caesar himself – in fact, Brutus and Caesar are friends. Brutus’s only concerns lie in Caesar’s great ambition. He worries that Caesar will be crowned, and the republic of Rome will be no more. In Act I, Scene II, while talking to Cassius, Brutus appears troubled when a great cry arises from the crowds surrounding Caesar: “What means this shouting? I do fear the people choose Caesar for their king.” (1083) Contrary to the other conspirators, who act out of jealousy of Caesar, Brutus acts out of love for Rome. When Cassius is initially trying to bring Brutus over to his cause, he appeals to Brutus’s jealousy and attempts to convince him that Caesar is no better than them and therefore should not be as revered as he is. Brutus, ever noble, responds, “I am nothing jealous.” (1084) This declaration makes it clear to Cassius that he will have to use other methods to turn Brutus against Caesar. This other method presents itself in the form of Casca, another conspirator who had been with Caesar amid the cheering crowd. Casca confirms Brutus’s fears, telling him of how the crown had three times been offered to Caesar and how with each refusal Caesar grew more and more reluctant. Brutus is unsettled by the idea of Caesar as king. In Brutus’s eyes, the monarchy is inherently evil. He likens Caesar to a serpent’s egg that must be killed before it ‘hatches’ and causes harm. This conclusion is only strengthened when Brutus’s servant, Lucius, finds a letter for Brutus from an anonymous Roman citizen, imploring him to act against Caesar. Brutus makes up his mind. “ ‘Speak, strike, redress!’ Am I entreated to speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise, if the redress will follow, thou receivest thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!” (1088)

By this line of reasoning, Caesar’s assassination appears to be justified. The problem is that this is only part of the story: Brutus is missing some of the facts. He doesn’t know what is really going on. Firstly, Brutus believes that his fellow conspirators are also acting out of an unselfish desire to save the Roman Republic, when really they are envious of Caesar, and want to spite him because of his power. All of the information Brutus had been given comes from those on the inside of the conspiracy. As a result, almost everything Brutus thinks to be true has been warped in some way to convince him that Caesar is a danger to Rome. For example, the note begging for Brutus to ‘Speak, strike, redress!’ was actually written by Cassius in an attempt to make Brutus think that the Roman people are also worried about the threat of Caesar. This means that even though Brutus believes himself to be acting justly, he is, in reality, being used by the other conspirators for an unjust purpose.

The other side of the story necessary for the justification of Brutus’s action is the story of Caesar. Brutus kills Caesar because he believes that Caesar is a danger to Rome, but is he? The answer to that question lies in what Caesar’s intentions are, and whether Caesar’s plans would have harmed Rome. Despite Casca’s testimony being discredited by his ulterior motives, Caesar truly does want the crown.  Shakespeare makes this clear in Act II, Scene II, when Caesar’s wife, Calphurnia, begs him to stay home from the Senate, as she has had dreams that predict his doom. After a lengthy plea, Caesar gives in and tells her, “Mark Antony shall say I am not well, and for thy humor I will stay at home.” (1092) His mind is made up, until one of the conspirators, Decius, arrives at his house and convinces Caesar otherwise. Decius offers another interpretation of Calphurnia’s dream, saying, “It was a vision fair and fortunate!” (1093) Caesar ignores him. After all, he isn’t really worried by the dream, but is only staying home to appease his wife. Decius sees this and realizes there is only one way to get Caesar to the senate: lie. “And know it now. The Senate have concluded to give this day a crown to mighty Caesar. If you shall send them word you will not come, their minds may change.” (1093) Caesar at once dismisses his wife’s worries and prepares to leave. “How foolish do your fears seem now, Calphurnia!” (1093) he cries, and his true colors are revealed. It is not the reinterpretation of Calphurnia’s dream that convinces him to go to the senate, but rather the offer of the crown, and his fear of losing it that persuades him.

From this is seems clear that Caesar intends for Rome to become a monarchy. This is what Brutus fears, but perhaps the monarchy is not as inherently evil as he thinks. In fact, it seems that the monarchy is what Rome needed. For one, the Republic is beyond saving. Brutus seems to think that with the death of Caesar, Rome will just turn around and go back to how it used to be, but this is simply not possible. When Brutus decides to act, he expects a redress to follow from the people. He realizes too late that the redress will not come. The Republic has descended into mob rule, as is obvious from the behavior of the common people. At the very beginning of the play, three citizens are chastised for cheering Caesar as he returns from defeating Pompey. Marullus, a tribune of the people, scolds them, saying, “Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft have you climb’d up to walls and battlements… to see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome…. And do you now strew flowers in his way that comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood?” (1082) This is the first time Shakespeare shines light on the fickle nature of the people, but it is a foreshadowing of events to come. After Caesar is killed, the people are in outrage, demanding satisfaction from Brutus. Brutus gives an eloquent speech, explaining his reasons for assassinating Caesar: “Not that I lov’d Caesar less, but that I lov’d Rome more.” (1098) The people, who five minutes earlier had been calling for Brutus’s blood, respond with shouts of agreement and loyalty to Caesar. “Let him be Caesar!” “Caesar’s better parts shall be crown’d in Brutus.” (1098) After his speech, Brutus leaves the people, and Antony takes the stage. Even though Antony had agreed not to blame the conspirators for Caesar’s death, he goes back on his word and accuses the conspirators of being murderers and jealous men. The people immediately take the side of Antony, crying out, “O traitors, villains! We will be revenged!” (1100) The people who were just proclaiming that Brutus should have the crown are now calling him a villain! The thought of these fickle people governing themselves is a laughable prospect. Brutus is wrong: the monarchy is not evil, but exactly what Rome needs!

In conclusion, it can be said that Shakespeare was right in his opinion of Brutus: a just man committing an unjust act. Brutus himself is righteous, but he is also deceived. Assassinating Caesar, while honorably intended, is really not the only way to save Rome, as Brutus thinks. In his mind, Caesar plans to take the crown and turn Rome into a monarchy, which Brutus believes to be evil. In reality, even though Caesar does plan on taking the crown, the monarchy is what is truly best for Rome. Brutus wants to save the Roman Republic, but it is impossible to save, as proved by the inconsistent allegiances of the people. Brutus is a virtuous man, but he is used by jealous men whose intentions are not as selfless as his own. In the end, Antony is correct when he says that Brutus was “the noblest Roman of them all.” (1112) The noblest Roman, deceived into committing an ignoble act. “All the conspirators save only he did that they did in envy of great Caesar; he, only in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them.” (1112)

[Kittredge, George, The Complete Works of Shakespeare, New York: Grolier, 1936.]

Thanks for reading! I’m off to finish my history for today and then take off all this makeup that Mom and I were playing with.

I probably won’t get the chance to blog on Sunday because I’m going to my grandparents’ sixtieth anniversary party and probably won’t have a lot of free time.

Anyway. I love you all – hope you have a great week!

~Hero

What is this feeling? (Is it love? What is love, anyway?)

Before you ask: yes, I am aware that it is Friday, and yes, I know I promised you guys a post yesterday, but here’s the thing. Yesterday morning, my dad and I went to a golf tournament and then my aunt came to town and we spent the day with her – long story short, I didn’t finish my schoolwork until past midnight, at which point it was no longer Thursday and I could not have kept my promise even if I wanted to!

(I didn’t want to. I was really tired.)

On the bright side, I finally finished my paper on Julius Caesar, and I’m really proud of it. I might post it, just so you guys can revel in my genius.

Anyway. I am up at 7:15 AM, writing this blog post now SPECIFICALLY so I won’t run out of time later. See how much I love you? See?

That was a really obvious segue – but, hey! It works! Today we’re talking about looooooooove.

Before we start, I want to clear up a misconception about love. Raise your hand if you think, or have ever thought, that love is just an intensification of ‘like.’ For example, when I was younger, I would have crushes on people, and if I really liked someone, I would have debates with myself: “I really like him – does that mean I love him?”

In a word: no.

I mean, yes, love obviously has feelings involved, but love is different than liking someone. When you like someone, you’re simply attracted to them. When you love someone, well. Here. I think the best way to start this is with Pope John Paul II’s definition of love.

“For love is not merely a feeling; it is an act of will that consists of preferring, in a constant manner, the good of others to the good of oneself.”

What this means is you can’t judge love by how strongly you feel. Love is on a whole new level: we can’t just like someone, we have to strive to know what is best for the other, and then make an actual commitment of our wills to bring about this “good” for the other. Love is an active decision to completely give yourself to someone else. When you love someone, you do what is best for them and what will make them happy, even if it will make you unhappy.

I’ll use another example from my preteen years (this isn’t getting embarrassing, or anything). When I was twelve or so, I had a huge crush on this one guy. One of those hopeless, desperate, I-know-this-guy-will-never-ever-like-me-in-a-million-years-never crushes. I was pretty much obsessed. Then, my twelve-year-old world was rocked when a friend of mine dropped a bombshell on me: she liked this guy, too. In that moment, I had to make a decision: do I keep liking this guy, on the off chance that he’ll like me back, or do I give him up for her? I knew that if, by some miracle, something happened between me and this guy, it would totally crush my friend. And that if I continued to like him while she liked him, too, I would start to see her as a rival. (I know that’s stupid, but I was twelve. Cut me a break.) I eventually made up my mind: I had to stop liking this guy. My friendship with my friend was more important to me. Sure, I liked him, but I love her.

That was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. Just so you know. I maintain that when you make a selfless choice for the good of someone you love, both of you benefit. Give and you shall receive, as they say.

Anyway, that was a slight tangent. Back to the topic.

In the Greek language, there are many words for love: eros, for example, is the word for romantic love. Agape is the self-giving love: the total donation of self. If you want an example of this kind of love that is easier to understand than the intricacies of my preteen love life, look at a crucifix. I don’t care if you’re not religious at all, go and look at a crucifix. Jesus Christ hung on a cross for six hours – which, by the way, is excruciatingly painful – because he loved you and wanted to save. Could you imagine? That is love. That is true, total, perfect love.

Now, if you’re thinking really critically about this, you’ll have reached a problem in all of these definitions. If love is a complete self-gift to someone else, how can you love at all? If you are giving up everything, then the act of loving someone romantically at all is kind of selfish – sure, you want the best for them, but you also love them and want to be loved. How does that make sense – to give all and yet take?

Simple explanation: obviously, real love is not one-sided. It’s not only about giving – though that is the crucial, most important part of love – it’s also about receiving. By accepting someone’s love, you are allowing someone else to give completely of themselves – which, if you think about it, is a pretty selfless thing to do.

The last thing I want to mention before I wrap this up is that love has three facets. Human beings are created for love – we were specifically designed for love – so obviously, we want to be loved, and we have attractions for people. Just because that isn’t agape love doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or somehow a twisted view of love. It’s only wrong if it exists without the self-giving: which is how the world defines love, by the way. “She’s cute, I want her for myself.” “He’s cute, I want him for myself.” That’s not how love works.

The aspects of love are as follows:

Love as attraction: recognizing the good of another person; seeing the inner and outer beauty of another person.

Love as desire: wanting a good for yourself; desiring goodness and happiness.

Love as goodwill: desiring the good of another person.

All three of these are good in themselves – recognizing inner beauty, wanting happiness, wanting what’s best for someone else. But when they’re together, they are true, self-giving, lasting love. Real love. And that’s what we want, right?

I’ll leave you all with two quotes that I really think encapsulate love.

“Love, to be real, must cost – it must hurt – it must empty us of self.” ~ Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“A young husband should say to his bride: ‘I have taken you in my arms and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us.” ~ St. John Chrysotom

If you liked this post, or you want to know more about this kind of thing, I recommend looking into a Theology of the Body course, or maybe just finding a book on the subject. Most of what I wrote today came from Theology of the Body for Teens by Jason & Crystalina Evert and Brian Butler. I have it as part of a class I’m taking, but I’m pretty sure you can find a book on Theology of the Body phrased in a way that’s easy to understand (because let’s face it: reading JPII straight up, while great, is not easy) and interesting to learn. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s a good read. Also, I would look into some of Jason Evert’s stuff. He talks about love and how to find it and how to love truly and perfectly in his books. How To Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul is a really good one – but any of his stuff is good.

I really find love fascinating, and I hope it shows in this post. After all, it’s what we’re made for. And I think that’s pretty cool.

~Hero